Man raises tuna

May 2008

Another fish story, perhaps with a happier ending. The Japanese have been working on it since 1948 at Kinki University — raising tuna from the egg, that is. If there’s one fish worse off than the shark, it’s tuna. Both southern and northern bluefin tuna are waiting, as one commentator said, in the anteroom of extinction. So the idea of not just “ranching” tuna — herding young fish and raising them in a pen — but actually breeding them as we do with other animals may hold out some hope for the future of the species. May. The northern bluefin tuna bred in Japan is branded Kendai and is being sent in small quantities (five fish weekly) to restaurants in New York such as Megu, Gramercy Tavern and Per Se, where chefs have reported its flavour to be “excellent”. At US $60 a pound (about half a kilogram), it’d want to be. Australian seafood entrepreneur John Susman concurs with the good raps. He tried some in Japan recently and it was, as he puts it in Australian English, “f@#$ing delicious”.

But it appears we’re onto it already. Down at Port Lincoln in South Australia, Cleanseas, the company that first ranched tuna in Australia, has also begun a program of breeding with the even more expensive and endangered southern bluefin. Cleanseas lifts ranched 10-year-old breeding stock by helicopter to a giant breeding pool, where their 1500km journey from the Great Southern Ocean to the Eastern Pacific is replicated, after which they breed. The first program was only six weeks ago, so we have to wait for the results. Good news or bad? It depends, says Giselle Firme, the Marine and Fisheries Conservation Officer at the National Conservation Council. “One of the problems is genetic diversity,” said Giselle. “If they’re using local fish, that’s good. And it also depends on what are they eating.

If it’s by catch (fish left over from targeted catches), that’s good — fish meal … not so good.” She conceded that, if they’re using proper safeguards, it would take pressure off the wild fishery. We’ll keep an eye on progress.

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